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Previewing the 2017 Tigers: Running Backs

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Same song with a new singer.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Texas A&M
Whole buncha this.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you heard this before: LSU returns the SEC’s best running back, set for one last big season before he takes his talents the NFL Draft.

Thing is, Derrius Guice can’t exactly step in for himself, should he be hobbled with a lingering ankle injury the way Leonard Fournette did in 2016.

2017 LSU Running Backs

Player Ht/Wt Rushes Yards TD Yards/ Carry Hlt Yds/ Opp. Opp. Rate Fumbles (Lost) Misc.
Player Ht/Wt Rushes Yards TD Yards/ Carry Hlt Yds/ Opp. Opp. Rate Fumbles (Lost) Misc.
5 Derrius Guice (Jr.) 5-11, 218 183 1,387 15 7.6 10.2 41.00% 3 (2) 9 catches, 106 yards and one TD
28 Darrel Williams (Sr.) 6-1, 229 52 233 3 4.5 3.7 36.50% 0 (0) 5 catches, 37 yards
4 Nick Brossette (Jr.) 6-0, 218 15 145 0 9.7 8.4 66.70% 0 (0)
27 Lanard Fournette (So.) 5-10, 201 5 13 0 2.6 0.5 20.00% 0 (0)
22 Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Fr.) 5-8, 208 Four-star recruit.
Stats via Football Study Hall
Returning stater in bold.

SWOT Analysis

Strength: One of the best players in the country.

Guice is the clear-cut Option A for Matt Canada to implement his offense for LSU this fall, and he will be the focus of the play-calling and the game plans. And for all of the desire on the part of LSU fans to see him fix the passing game, that’s the smart move for Canada.

Because Guice is, without a doubt, one of the best offensive players in the country. He and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley are 1A and 1B, both as college athletes and NFL prospects. Guice runs angry, with a combination of balance and power that fits bigger backs, yet with the quickness and acceleration of a scat-back. We all knew he was a tremendous complement to Leonard Fournette’s downhill power, but he proved to be every bit the workhorse when No. 7 was sidelined last year.

He also has the knowledge of the game and hands to be an even bigger weapon in the passing game, something that most believe Canada will do a better job of exploiting. Between his involvement of other players in the running game, and Guice’s talents creating mismatches in different alignments, look for a lot more diversification in No. 5’s touches this season, with more catches and jet/fly sweeps in addition to zone and power.

It’s doubtful that Guice will challenge Fournette’s amazing 2015 season as a pure rusher, but there’s a decent chance he challenges it from a total yardage standpoint.

Weakness: Depth behind Derrius Guice is a question mark.

There are things to like about LSU’s reserve running backs, but there are some major question marks as well. Darrel Williams has never proved he can be particularly dynamic beyond a basic power back. It’s great to hear that he’s shed some weight, and on age alone he should have an advantage on a lot of the players trying to tackle him. But the idea of thrusting a bigger load on him than short-yardage/late-game power back seems daunting.

And while there is reason to be optimistic for Nick Brossette, a former big-time recruit that has been slowly regaining form from a freshman-year knee injury, we’ve still never see him do much in games. Including last year, when Williams struggled in relief of Guice.

Lanard Fournette has never done much of anything beyond the spring game, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a freshman. It’s one thing to work players like them into the offense in complementary roles. Counting on them out of necessity, at least right now, would not be ideal.

Opportunities: Versatility in the new offense, particularly for reserves.

One thing that Canada has talked about constantly is the idea of “players, not plays,” and that could create some very interesting opportunities for LSU’s tailbacks. We’ve discussed Guice’s untapped potential as a receiver, and the F-position may fit a number of the players here. WIlliams lined up in the spot in a short-yardage situation in the spring game, and was able to get in some open space in short yardage while the defense keyed on Guice. More explosive players like Brossette and Edwards-Helaire could also be interesting options there in other sets. Guice himself could even line up there from time to time.

Edwards-Helaire, in particular, could be an intriguing X-factor. Guice has called him “mini-me” and I think that’s very apt, because the two Catholic High grads have very similar skill sets. And while many point to Edwards-Helaire’s size, we’re talking about 208 pounds, not 188. Maybe he’s not a 25-carry workhorse the way Guice or Fournette are, but I wouldn’t be afraid to feed a player with Guice’s build, much like Maurice Jones-Drew. And his ability to catch the ball could make for some interesting alignments in the slot or F-back positions.

Threats: An injury to No. 5 would result in a significant drop-off.

LSU has the potential to have a dynamic, explosive, and incredibly versatile rushing attack this season. The one constant to Canada’s offensive style is diversity in how he uses his players, and there are a number of Tigers in the backfield and otherwise that can bring that to the running game.

But Guice needs to be the constant. The thing that defenses are afraid of. The jet sweep breaks a big play because defenses are trying to fit to the inside zone on the other side of the play. If No. 5 isn’t back there to draw that attention, that could be a dramatic change for how this offense is defended.